Machine Learning in Human Olfactory Research

Chem Senses. 2019 Jan 1;44(1):11-22. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjy067.


The complexity of the human sense of smell is increasingly reflected in complex and high-dimensional data, which opens opportunities for data-driven approaches that complement hypothesis-driven research. Contemporary developments in computational and data science, with its currently most popular implementation as machine learning, facilitate complex data-driven research approaches. The use of machine learning in human olfactory research included major approaches comprising 1) the study of the physiology of pattern-based odor detection and recognition processes, 2) pattern recognition in olfactory phenotypes, 3) the development of complex disease biomarkers including olfactory features, 4) odor prediction from physico-chemical properties of volatile molecules, and 5) knowledge discovery in publicly available big databases. A limited set of unsupervised and supervised machine-learned methods has been used in these projects, however, the increasing use of contemporary methods of computational science is reflected in a growing number of reports employing machine learning for human olfactory research. This review provides key concepts of machine learning and summarizes current applications on human olfactory data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Databases, Factual
  • Electronic Nose
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / chemistry


  • Biomarkers
  • Volatile Organic Compounds